Category: For authors

A music blog that every writer should read

By John Yunker,

I’ve recently become acquainted with The Lefsetz Letter, a blog by — who else? — Bob Lefsetz.

It’s a blog about the music industry.

And yet there are so many parallels between the music industry and the publishing industry that I recommend this blog to any writer out there who wants to get a feel for where we’re all headed.

There are differences, to be sure, between the two industries. There’s no American Idol for writers, for example (which is not necessarily a bad thing).

Both industries are undergoing massive change, both due primarily to the digitization of content.

And as Bob wrote, the music industry can’t get away with overcharging for music any longer. The same might be said for the publishing industry, which sowed the seeds for its own disruption when hardcovers began costing north of $25 (and giving people a very good reason to migrate to the Kindle).

But what I most appreciate about Bob’s writing (and boy, is he prolific) is that he always comes back around to the importance of the art itself. Because despite all the Kindles and iPads and Nooks that are making headlines these days, despite all social networking success stories, it is the art itself that matters most.

A Kindle is worthless without a great book.

And I would argue that there is still a dearth of great books out there.

Here’s what Bob wrote recently:

No one wants to hear this. Especially a generation brought up getting trophies for last place. Music is more cutthroat and competitive than ever before. The public is right there, on the other side of the computer, but it’s almost impossible to get people to care.

If you’re a great marketer, good at Facebook and Twitter, hire yourself out as such. Just because you can promote a product, that does not mean it’s going to sell. Social media only works if the music is great.

Good is not good enough.

We’re talking great. One listen great. Fifteen seconds great. Or something so left field that our friends tell us to give it five times through and we think it’s the new “Dark Side Of The Moon”.

Music is like America at large. There’s the 1% and everybody else. You may think you can make it, but you can’t. You’re part of the 99%. You’re a fan.

You could swap out “music” and insert “publishing” and “book” and this excerpt would be just as relevant to writers.

There are more books being published today than ever before, more books competing for reviews and for “follows” and “likes.”  It’s the natural evolution of an industry that no longer has gatekeepers. It’s chaotic. It’s noisy. And now the focus is on how many friends you have, how many followers. Writers are all expected to have a “platform” so they can guarantee a certain number of sales, a certain amount of publicity.

But I agree with what Bob notes: Social media only works if the music [book] is great.

I’ve been thinking a lot about social media lately. I wonder how a writer who has been toiling for years (usually nights and weekends) writing his or her Great American Novel is also expected to have a few thousand followers and friends?

My advice echoes Bob’s: You’re far better off worrying less about how many friends you have and focusing more on writing the best book possible. A book that people tell their friends and family about not because you asked them to — because they want to.

Far too often, publishers make acquisitions based on how many friends or likes or Twitter followers an author has. And that is a mistake. Yet it’s a mistake that will ultimately benefits smaller presses — those of us still focused on the work itself. In a world with no gatekeepers at the top, it is the gatekeepers at the bottom who matter most — the readers. Write for them and them only, and the rest will fall into place.

And don’t forget to check out Bob’s blog.


Tips for authors: How to set up a book tour

By Midge Raymond,

Thanks to the release of a new edition of Forgetting English this spring, I’ve spent many weeks this year traveling to venues on both coasts and through the Midwest promoting the book. Among the best things I’ve learned, not only from this tour but from the events I did when the book was first released in 2009, is that The Book Tour comes in so many different shapes and forms. And the most important thing for any author to know is which type of tour will work best, for both the writer and the book.

The old days of publisher-sponsored, multi-city book tours are, for the most part, long gone. These days, authors must plan, pay for, and promote their own book tours — which is no small task. And for writers who don’t have a background in publishing, publicity, or marketing, it can seem even more intimidating; I’ve heard countless authors say that their book promotion turned out to be even more challenging than writing the book. (And I’m inclined to agree.)

But the challenges are well worth it, as the rewards can be great. Keeping in mind the nature of your book, your schedule, and your budget, here are a few tips to help you plan a tour that will best fit your needs:

Team up with a fellow writer. For my 2011 tour, I teamed up for many events with my friend and colleague Wendy Call, author of No Word for Welcome. Because our books have similar themes (both are about foreign locales, though mine is fiction and Wendy’s is nonfiction), we thought it would be great to offer joint events, with something for all readers, and we received enthusiastic responses from booksellers, community writing centers, and libraries. Best of all, we shared the workload (all the cold calls, follow-ups, and creation of marketing materials) as well as the fun stuff (great events, great people, lots of wine). Even better, we could commiserate over the not-so-fun stuff (the rejections, the small crowds, the low book sales). In all, it was a wonderful experience and one I’m so glad to have shared with Wendy. So if your book is a good fit with another writer’s, joint events are a great way to share the experience as well as broaden your audience.

Think outside the bookstore. Certain times of year (holidays, for example, or summer in the Pacific Northwest) can be impossible for scheduling bookstore events. And sometimes, no matter what the time of year, a bookstore may be booked already, or your schedules won’t align. So think beyond the bookstore, and you’re likely not only to find gems but a whole new audience. Libraries are very open to author events, particularly if there’s an educational component; also think of community centers or literary centers such as Grub Street, Richard Hugo House, or San Diego Writers Ink. Among the places I’ve read or attended readings are museums and galleries, cafes, universities and colleges, book clubs and other clubs, historical societies…the list is endless if you think about it, so get a little creative.

Offer a little something more. Unless you’re a writer whose mere presence in a bookstore will guarantee a line out the door, think about offering a little more than a traditional reading/signing. You want the event to be a win-win (so you’ll be invited back enthusiastically when you publish your next book), so think beyond your book to what else you can offer. Often when I do an event for Forgetting English, I offer a travel-writing workshop, which brings in not only readers but writers and travelers as well. So even if no one’s ever heard of me or my writing (which is, in fact, most people), those who love to travel or write will show up to learn something … and one of the things they learn is what my book is all about. Wendy and I held several mini-workshops during our New England book tour this fall, and we received terrific feedback from these events. Even if an event isn’t specifically about your book, you’re giving participants an opportunity to get to know you, which in turn will build interest in your work.

Be creative. Again, a book tour needn’t be limited to bookstores or libraries. In this New York Times article, Stephen Elliott writes about his D.I.Y. book tour for The Adderall Diaries, in which he bravely embarks on a different kind of book tour. Not wanting to “travel thousands of miles to read to 10 people, sell four books, then spend the night in a cheap hotel room before flying home,” Elliott decided to let his readers host his events. His salon-style events would take place in readers’ homes, have at least 20 attendees, and Elliott would sleep on the host’s couch. Check out the article for details, including what the author learned in the process.

Host (or ask someone to host) a literary salon. This is a version of what Stephen Elliott did, but with friends, not strangers. Literary salons are a great way to find new readers and talk about your book in a more private setting. Ask a friend (even better if it’s someone in another city/state, where you’ll be reaching out to new readers) to host a salon for you at his/her home. Bring copies of the book to sell; provide whatever food/wine/etc. you’d like at the event. Then simply plan a casual gathering around your book, which might include a brief reading, discussion, Q&A, etc.

Learn from each event, and from others. Susan Rich returned from her book tour for The Alchemist’s Kitchen with new wisdom and some great tips, which she offers in this blog post. And I’ve written a few notes on my book tour with Wendy as well.

– If you don’t have the time or budget to do a traditional book tour, try a Virtual Book Tour. You do many of the same things — create buzz for your book, find new readers, and chat about your book — on a Virtual Book Tour. Keep in mind that, while virtual, this type of book tour still takes a lot of planning: you need to connect with host bloggers, come up with original topics to write about, and promote your tour. See my original post on virtual book tours, and search virtual book tour on the blog if you’d like to see examples of where my tour took me.

Plan in advance! Bookstores usually schedule events 4-6 months in advance, and libraries schedule 3-5 months in advance. There’s always a chance you can get in at a later date, especially if you’re a local author, but I definitely recommend advance planning, especially if you have certain venues in mind.

Promote, promote, promote. Once your events are set up, the real work begins! Again, a happy experience for all is when you have a nice crowd, and when you sell books. Use social media to promote your events; create postcards, bookmarks, and/or flyers to offer to the venue so that they can promote it as well. List your events on your web site, and ask venues for a local media list so that you can send press releases and/or calendar announcements (never rely on the venue to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to promoting events). This excellent post by Randy Susan Meyers offers advice for how to be self-promote with dignity.

Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. Remember that this is fun. (Really, it is.) The process of setting up all these events is exhilarating but also exhausting — and running around to all of them can be even more so. So this is when it’s important to remember why you’re doing it all: You’ve published your book. You’re getting it out there in the world. And you’re meeting your readers. For a writer, what could be better than that?

Give thanks to all. Don’t forget to thank everyone who made your tour possible, from the independent bookstores to your salon hosts to the readers who showed up to support your book. (In fact, these notecards are perfect for writerly thank-you notes.) And even more important, hold on to this spirit of gratitude — it’ll make your entire book tour lots of fun, even in the challenging moments.

Tips for authors: How to create a book trailer

By Midge Raymond,

Creating a book trailer is a tough decision for an author — it’s a project that demands a lot of time, energy, sometimes money, and may or may not help sell books.

I debated whether or not to make a trailer for Forgetting English when the book first came out in 2009. Even as a writer and reader, I must confess that I’ve always found the concept of a book trailer a little strange; while movie trailers for films are an obvious marketing strategy, I think it’s a challenge for most writers (particularly fiction writers) to do justice to their books in a media that isn’t an obvious match with the product, i.e., words and story and the imaginative collaboration they create with the reader. How to translate this into video was a mystery to me. Actually, it still is.

The main problem for fiction writers, I think, is how to portray our stories visually. We write because we love words, after all, and not all of us are also actors or have a great visual sense or have the budget to hire professionals. I’ve also found that attempts to dramatize a novel for the tiny screen can backfire in a huge way if not done just right. That said, I’m not sure what that “right way” is.  Many writers get around this challenge by focusing on something else other than the story itself, such as the author or book’s backstory — a great solution in that it gives readers a little something more than what they already know from the jacket copy or author bio.

Challenges aside, there are definitely a lot of great book trailers out there. One of my all-time favorites is Dennis Cass’s award-winning trailer, Book Launch 2.0 — which is not only hilarious, but it does everything a book trailer needs to do: engage, entertain, and pique interest in the author and the book. The trailer doesn’t actually mention his book, Head Case, which I might have done — but it’s still a great one.

Another favorite is Judy Reeves’s book trailer for A Writer’s Book of Days — the trailer does a wonderful job of showing us what’s at the heart of the book: writing and inspiration, creativity and compassion. Even though the book is nonfiction, it tells a story — one that perfectly fits the book’s themes.

And the fabulous Jane Lynch does not disappoint with her hilarious book trailer for Happy Accidents. I especially like that while she uses her trademark humor here, she’s not relying on celebrity status in this trailer; she is, instead, tapping into every author’s natural, if slightly misguided, instincts to go all out for one’s book.

As Alan Rinzler points out in a blog post on book trailers, research indicates that you’ve got a viewer’s attention for about three minutes — but I’d go even shorter than that. I rarely watch anything for more than a minute or two — “Book Launch 2.0” was an exception because it was so funny, and you’ll note that both Judy’s and Jane’s trailers are almost exactly two minutes long.

Yet even after watching a few good book trailers and more than a few bad ones, I came up with no great ideas for my own book. Promoting a short story collection from a small press has plenty of marketing challenges, and creating a book trailer seemed to be among the bigger ones. So Forgetting English went trailer-less for nearly two years, and in the meantime my husband, John Yunker, published a novel, The Tourist Trail, and he too began to wonder if he should do a trailer. Because he self-published his book and needed all the promotion he could get, we began thinking of ideas, all of them terrible. While we both agreed, naturally, with the reviewer who called John’s book “epic, sprawling, and strikingly cinematic,” we still couldn’t find a way to create a trailer that wasn’t melodramatic and lame.

Then he had a great idea — one that had nothing to do with the subject, content, characters, or themes of his book. But it didn’t need to. And best of all, his idea incorporated my book, too. So we put together a script, picked up John’s iPhone, and did the whole thing over a long weekend. It cost us nothing but time.

And this is one of the important things to consider — how much time and/or money are you willing to invest in a book trailer? For us, the answer was a holiday weekend and zero money — so we had the perfect budget. But authors do have to be aware of the costs involved and to know that it might not be a great investment, especially since no one really knows how well book trailers sell books. Also, once you have a book trailer, the next challenge is to find ways to get people to view your book trailer. We were fortunate that many in the literary community showed it some love, including Poets & Writers, Shelf Awareness, GalleyCat, The Seattle Times, and many generous bloggers, Facebook friends, and tweeters (we thank you all). And we noticed a slight uptick in book sales (we’re thankful for that, too), but nothing overwhelming, which makes us glad we didn’t spend a fortune. Still, it was worth doing in that it got our names and our books out there, and from the feedback we’ve gotten, it’s given people a few moments of fun.

And so, as one last example, I present our book trailer, Love in the Time of, for your viewing pleasure:


Tips for authors: How to do a “virtual book tour”

By Midge Raymond,

With Out of Breath‘s virtual book launch party taking place on Monday (you’re invited!), I wanted to offer a few tips for all authors on how to create a virtual book tour.

So, what is a “virtual book tour”? It’s simply another way to get out there and do what authors do — talk about your book, connect with readers, answer questions — only this way, you’re doing it all virtually instead of live and in person. The nice thing about this is that, unlike with a live book tour, on a virtual tour you can wear yoga pants the whole time (unless, of course, you go onto Skype or do any video chats). A virtual book tour is perfect for authors who can’t travel — and it’s also a great way to supplement an in-person tour.

Here are a few ways you can promote your book virtually:

– Host (or ask your publisher or a friend to host) a book launch party (join us on Halloween to see what it’s all about!)

– Be a guest blogger on several writer/reader blogs, offering insider news and info about your book and/or its topic

– Schedule interviews and/or Q&As on reader/writer blogs

– Offer book giveaways on your own blog and other blogs, as well as on such sites as Goodreads

– Look for opportunities to do taped readings, interviews, and/or podcasts (visit Writers Out Loud, Blog Talk Radio, and Lively Words for examples).

The nice thing about the virtual tour is that the possibilities are seemingly endless: You can go anywhere. The fact that you can do this also makes it a bit overwhelming. A few things to keep in mind…

Just because you can do everything doesn’t mean you must do everything. At least not all at once. Launching a book into the world is a big deal, and it’s tempting to want to do every single thing you can. However, you’ll probably go a little insane if you try this. I suggest a schedule that includes daily events the first week, then tapering it down a bit to 2-3 events per week over the following weeks. This will give you good buzz in the beginning, then allow you to breathe again. And remember that while book promotion is most important in the first few months, promoting your book is a long-term endeavor. Always keep an eye out for new opportunities to share your book with the world.

Start developing relationships early. You don’t want to be rushing to get events lined up at the last minute, and you also don’t want to be demanding of your fellow bloggers. Ideally, you’ll have a good writers’ network in place — if not, start networking well before your pub date. And, most important of all, ask not only what your fellow writers can do for you but what you can do for them: Offer them guest spots on your own blog; ask them how you can help them out, too.

Have FUN! Don’t make book promotion a chore, or you’ll grow to hate it. Doing a great deal of writing and talking in a short period of time can get exhausting, so you’ll have to find your own balance to avoid burning out. And while many people will tell you that you have to base all your events around the book launch date, I’m more of the mindset that “every week is book-launch week” in that, for one, book promotion never really ends; and two, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t fit it all into one week, or even one month. Rather attempt to cram everything into a short period of time, you’ll be better off in the long run if you think about ways to promote your book all year, and all the time.

We look forward to seeing you (virtually) on Halloween! Meanwhile, I hope you’ll join us on Twitter and Facebook, too.

Blogging tips for authors

By Midge Raymond,

The first bit of advice most writers get about book promotion is usually: “Write a blog.” And it’s great advice. Yet writers often think, “Wait…I’ve just spent six years on this novel, and now I have to write more?”

Well, yes.

Of course, some published writers are published solely because of their blogs (there are too many success stories to name, but you’ve probably heard of Sh*t My Dad Says and Julie & Julia, to name just a couple). So if you’re writing nonfiction, you’re at an advantage; whether it’s cooking or travel or advice for moms, nonfiction lends itself well to blogging. If you’re enough of an expert in something to write a book about it, you probably already have a blog, which means you’ve got a platform and you’ve got great stuff to take to editors.

But if you’re a fiction writer or poet, you may not have considered writing a blog. You may be far more interested in writing drafts of stories and poems than in trying to create content for blog posts and worrying about building an audience. I feel your pain; I put off blogging as long as I could, until I finally gave in back in 2006. And it has turned out to be a lot more fun than I thought.

When I began my blog, I was juggling a zillion things and barely had time to write as it was — and naturally I wondered why I should write a blog when I could be writing stories. But I’m glad I did. The same way teaching helps me practice what I preach in terms of good writing, blogging is helpful in so many ways, from helping me stay on top of publishing news to getting me thinking about new writing rituals to connecting with other readers and writers. And now, I write three blogs (this one, Remembering English, and The Writer’s Block), and in addition to these enhancing my own work, they’re also really fun.

So here are a few tips for the beginning blogger:

Start now. As in, right this second. Even if your book isn’t due out for another year (or even if you haven’t written it yet) you’ll want to get started on your blog right away. You need to build content, attract readers, and develop its voice and style.

Write what you know. Nothing fits this adage better than blogging. This is why people blog, after all — to offer their expertise to others. And it’s the same reason people read blogs — to learn about things they want or need to know, whether it’s how to write dialogue or how to cook vegetarian. Again, if you’re writing nonfiction, you likely have a lot of knowledge to share — but even if you’re writing fiction, you can keep a blog about your writing life and process, as Shary Hover does on her lovely blog. And check out Patti Marxsen’s blog Manuscriptorium, in which she writes about the process of writing her novel.

Post as often as you can — without making it too much of a chore. Posting frequently is great, but even more important is that the content is good and useful (see the next tip, below). If you treat blogging as a chore, your readers will probably notice that your heart’s not in it. Blogging can be a lot of work, as any blogger will tell you. I admire and envy those who blog 3-5 times a week, like the amazing and prolific Erika Dreifus. But you don’t have to post that often to have a successful blog — being interesting and relevant is more important than being frequent. That said, you’ll want to blog often enough that readers know your blog is active. Try to post from one to five times a week — but even if you can only post once or twice a month, that’s something. Keep in mind that short posts are okay — and probably much more likely to be read than longer ones.

– As mentioned above, be interesting and relevant. You’ll want your blog to have a solid focus, but one that also allows for some breathing room. For example, if you’ll look at the Categories listed on the left, you’ll see several, but you’ll also notice that they’re all somehow related to what we’re about, from new books to Ashland news to nature. You can have a broad range of topics, as long as they’re relevant to your work and your readers.

Have daily/weekly themes, or ongoing topics. For example, we have an occasional Ask the Editor column, which gives us a chance to answer writerly questions that come our way for the benefit of all. On my other two blogs I offer a Weekly Writing column with a new writing exercise every Monday as a jump-start to the week. My friend Kelli Russell Agodon has a wonderful blog on which she posts Confession Tuesday, in which she confesses her “sins,” none of which are sinful but all of which we can relate to as humans and as writers; and Thankful Thursday, in which she writes an appreciation of someone or something she admires.

Be yourself. Let your voice come through on your blog. You may not want to be quite as colloquial or as open as you are when chatting with your best friends (depending on what you talk about), but don’t be shy about showing your personality. That said, keep in mind that everyone from your editor to your in-laws to your next prospective employer may be reading your blog at any given time — so be yourself, but with enough restraint to keep you out of trouble.

Be generous. Kelli’s Thankful Thursday blog is a perfect example of this: By highlighting others, you not only have material to write about but you’re paying it forward. Link to other relevant blogs often; share the love. Offer to do a guest blog for another writer’s blog, or invite a writer to be a guest on yours. It’s a great way to discover new blogs and to help others discover them as well. I’ve cross-posted my Weekly Writing blog here so that writers and readers alike have a chance to discover the works of some of my favorite writers as well as to highlight their new works in print.

Be pretty. Make sure your blog is neat and organized, that your background colors and images are easy on the eyes, and use a normal sized, serif font. Use images and video when you can, and keep paragraphs short. Bullets and lists are handy and make for easy reading, too — remember, no one wants to get bogged down in long paragraphs of text on a computer screen. A quick note on images: Don’t go too crazy (use them only if they’re relevant), and make sure you have taken the photos yourself or have permission to use them. It may not seem like a big deal to snag a photo from somewhere else, but I know of writers who have done this and have had to pay damages (and this is not cheap) for using photos without permission.

Invite comments — and reply to them. For the first year of my blog, I didn’t open it to comments; I was worried I’d get a lot of spam, that freaky people would make creepy comments, or that I would get so few comments that my blog would look really sad and pathetic. But after hearing nonstop that there’s no point to blogging without welcoming comments, I finally caved.  And yes, all of the above did happen and still does. But I’ve found that it’s worth it — inviting feedback and creating dialogue has fostered connections and helped build an audience.

Think of keywords and how you can use them to draw traffic to your blog — again, only if they’re relevant (if you lure readers to your site with false promises, they won’t come back). And keep headlines as simple and user-friendly as possible — like “Blogging tips for authors,” for example.

Let people know you’re there. I usually tweet each new post, offering a newsy kernel so people will click through if they’re interested. I mention posts on Facebook as well. And we hope to gather a bunch of readers together for the upcoming Virtual Book Launch Party for Out of Breath on Halloween. We’re offering book giveaways (another good way to get people to visit your blog, by the way), and everyone is welcome (hope you’ll join us!).

Share the love. All bloggers like comments; we like to know people are reading our blogs, and this is the best indicator. So reach out and comment on blogs that you like; this is good karma, and it’s fun. Also, keep a blogroll (we have a list going on the left), in which you link to blogs you like, and they’ll probably be glad to list you on theirs as well.

Happy blogging!